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Wyoming’s population contracted for the first time in nearly three decades, likely because people left the state for work elsewhere, according to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau and state.

In July, 585,501 people called the Cowboy State home, a decrease of 0.2 percent from July 2015, or 1,054 fewer Wyomingites.

While some individual counties have recently experienced population decreases, this is the first time that the state’s overall population has fallen since 1990. But there is some research showing the economy is stabilizing and Wyoming’s population may not significantly decline in future years.

Between January 2015 and the summer of 2016, about a third of the state’s mineral extraction jobs, or nearly 9,000 positions, had been lost, said Wenlin Liu, chief economist for the Wyoming Division of Economic Analysis.

The recent decline in oil and natural gas prices, along with a drop in coal production, reverberated on the state’s overall economy.

In all, Wyoming lost 16,000 jobs, or more than 5 percent of its workforce, Liu said.

“For Wyoming, any (population) change is always followed by an employment change,” he said.

Census number crunchers arrived at the figure when considering births, deaths and the number of people moving in and out of the state.

There were 7,590 births in Wyoming between July 2015 and July 2016 and 3,838 deaths. That resulted in a 2,752 population increase.

But about 3,800 more people left the state than moved in, Liu said a statement explaining the Census figures.

The 3,800 is an estimate based on tax returns.

If someone filed taxes from Casper in 2015 and Denver in 2016, “these two tax returns can be matched,” he said. “It is just assumed that person moved from Casper to Denver.”

Counties

Goshen County suffered Wyoming’s steepest decline, losing 1.5 percent of its population.

Natrona County lost 1,152 residents, a 1.4 percent decrease. The county is home to many oil field service companies.

Hot Springs and Platte counties also each decreased 1.4 percent.

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There were some areas of Wyoming that increased population, including Laramie, Lincoln, and Park counties, which each experienced at least 1 percent growth.

1980s

From 1983 through 1990, when minerals were in bust, there were population decreases each year of between 1 and 3 percent, following a boom in the 1970s, Liu said.

Some years, that resulted in about 10,000 people leaving the state, he said.

The population drop between 2015 and 2016 doesn’t come close to the 1980s declines.

And it probably won’t climb to 1980s levels. There are indications that job losses have slowed. Unemployment and the number of unemployment insurance claims are decreasing. The number of people in the Wyoming workforce is up a few hundred in the past three months, Liu said.

“We observed by the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 some stabilization in the economy,” he said.

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Follow political reporter Laura Hancock on Twitter @laurahancock

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Star-Tribune reporter Laura Hancock covers politics and the Wyoming Legislature.

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